When new sets come out there is an emphasis on the new legendary creatures in the EDH community. There is a quick buzz and players want to build with new shiny toys. Normally only one or two decks will rise in popularity from the new set. However, if we ignore the other commanders we often will lose out on a fringe deck that can be very enjoyable to play. Standard Commander looks at the current commanders in the standard meta and then builds one of the decks around it. This time we will be looking at Ayara, First of Locthwain.
Ayara is a commander that creates a new way to play aristocrats. Aristocrats in its purest meaning is a deck archetype that plays cards that give you a bonus for sacrificing creatures. It is named after the aristocrats, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Cartel Aristocrat. Although Blood Artist is one of the signiture aristocrats that defines the archetype. His text reads “when a creature dies target player loses one life and you gain one life.” Ayara creates a new way to play the aristocrat archetype. Yes, there still be lots of death triggers but she adds additional damage triggers when black creatures enter the battlefield. She is also your commander. Until the Throne of Eldraine, all of the direct damage triggers in mono-black were nonlegendary creatures. You could play Judith the Scourge Diva if you were in Rakdos or red and black, but never just mono-black.
Ayara will not be a Popular Deck
One of the drawbacks is along with Ayara, Syr Konrad, the Grim was released in the set as well. He is an aristocrat in the more traditional sense causing damage when creatures die. He adds some additional damage triggers anytime a creature enters a graveyard or anytime a creature leaves your graveyard. This opens up mill strategies to cause additional direct damage. Recurring creatures also damages your opponent or there is a more insidious option. If you are playing mill or a standard aristocrats deck, then exile your own graveyard. You will not be able to recur your creatures anymore but ideally, you don’t do this until it will kill every player at the table.
With Ayara and Syr Konrad becoming legal at the same time, both cards will work against each other for popularity. I doubt we will see either commander become a top-three commander from Throne of Eldraine. Then There is Judith who adds another color and it will be a serious competition for who should head up an aristocrats deck.
Why I prefer Ayara
For me, my preference leans towards Ayara. While mono-color decks bring weaknesses in the color pie, mono-black is the best of them. With access to tutors and a color pie philosophy of you can do anything you just have to pay for it. It is versatile enough to compete with stronger multiple color pairings.
You can do anything you just have to pay for it
One of the advantages it has is its mana base. Single color decks are the most consistent in being able to generate the mana you need in order to cast your spells. There is no mana fixing needed. As long as you can draw the lands you’re good for mana. It also enables you to add more utility lands to your deck that more color-intensive decks must cut. Ayara also is three mana like Judith. She is cheaper to cast then Syr Konrad and quicker to set up. You also know you will be able to cast her on curve. In four out of five games. As long as I am willing to mulligan down to six, then the three lands needed for Ayara are in hand to start the game.
Ayara has two additional advantages over the other two. The first is a quicker damage trigger. Your creatures need to do nothing they just have to enter the battlefield and Ayara triggers. Since she is mono-black the creatures you play will all be mono-black allowing each enter the battlefield effect to trigger her ability. Yes, we can play with artifact creatures, but with our commander, we are encouraged not to. The second reason is that she has a built-in sac outlet. It’s a tap ability so without some mischievousness in the deck I will be able to use it once per turn. Still, being guaranteed access to a sac outlet makes the deck more consistent that it will be able to do what it wants to do. That goal is to play black creatures and then murder them for profit.
What Aristocrats Needs
Aristocrats need three things to efficiently run. First, are creatures. Without creatures, we can not trigger our commander or an aristocrat to do damage to our opponents. It also needs a sacrifice outlet. While Ayara is an alternate way to create damage most of our damage triggers are based on death triggers. In order for this to happen we need ways to sacrifice our own creatures. We can not rely on opponents to kill our creatures. We need to be able to do it ourselves. Free sac outlets are preferred but we will take them in any form. The final item needed is the payoff. These are cards that will give us a benefit whenever a creature of ours dies. Direct damage is preferred, but other death triggers will help build in additional value to the deck.
A cornerstone category. is a basic category that the deck wants to access at the start of the game. It also wants to draw into the category multiple times during the course of the game too. In order to do this, a cornerstone category is automatically slotted 15 cards. Fifteen cards assure if you mulligan down to 6 you will have this category in your hand 97.2% of the time. It also allows the player to have two of that category in hand 88.4% of the time after their third card draw.
The cornerstone category for this deck is card draw. The deck wants to capitalize on creatures entering the battlefield and then murdering them. Card advantage is critical for building up the battlefield as we are constantly tearing it down for value. We want cards and often. When we build the cornerstone category we want to include many card draw spells that are low CMC. This way we can play them early and often. This deck will win explosively. It builds methodically early, but when it goes off, it goes off fast. Higher mana cost cards interfere with the explosive turn aristocrats wants.
An Emphasis on Creatures
The deck wants a critical mass of creatures. Often we will use creatures for different effects we want to accomplish. We can always sacrifice these creatures in a pinch. It also gives us value when our opponents wipe the board. Our goal for the deck is to contain forty cards that are creatures or create them. This limits our design space but it can be overcome. It means we need to be selective with the cards we choose that are not creatures.
An example of this is Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos. Both cards are removal that give a payoff when a creature dies. When building the removal category it is easy to slot both cards into the package as it is removal and it is done in a way this deck can capitalize on. Unfortunately, forty creatures are a large percentage of the deck and a removal card needed to be replaced with a creature that can count as removal as well. While effective one of these cards needed to be cut to make room for an additional creature. The better choice to cut was Dictate of Erebos. It is more expensive by one mana. This lowers our mana curve and helps assure we have creatures to enter the battlefield and sacrifice when we need to in order to win the game.
The Battle with Mana Curve
When building this deck it was easy to see early in the process that the deck can easily slot a lot of high CMC cards. This runs counter to what the deck wants. The deck often will need some mana to recur several of the creatures in the deck. It has to strike a delicate balance between using these sinks and casting spells. There are other stronger cards that could be included in the deck that is higher in mana. Rise of the Dark Realms or Dictate of Erebos are examples of these cards. They were removed due to their higher mana cost. Too many of these cards and the deck will become sluggish. It’ll choke your hand with cards that you can not play.
The Key Three
Every deck has key cards that will help it run efficiently. Ayara is no exception. Let’s look at some of these cards.
While Thornbite Staff does direct damage, this is not why it is in the deck. The card was included so that we can have untap mischievousness with Ayara. Once attached to her you can tap her to sacrifice a creature and draw a card. The creature dies and that death triggers the ability the staff gives to Ayara to untap herself. This allows you to tap her again and sacrifice another creature. You can do this as often as you have creatures on the battlefield. It fuels any additional death triggers and keeps your hand full of cards so you can keep a strong board state. This is wonderful when the deck needs to dig for cards to build its death engine.
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, and company
Any card that creates tokens in this deck has significant value. Token generation is an efficient way to generate value form death triggers. All the token generators are good but Endrek Sahr is the best of them. He comes has a risk though. If he creates seven or more thrulls at a time you must sacrifice him. This is where having a sac outlet is important. This way you can create the thrulls and before you cast another creature spell you can kill them to keep their numbers down. Endrek creates enough tokens that he is a part of an infinite mana combo. You can read about it here.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Just like tokens, in order to be efficient, you have to find ways to put and keep a lot of permanents on the board. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed does that by providing all your nonhumans undying. You can get an additional sacrifice trigger off of each creature you play but not the tokens. They will disappear once they hit the graveyard. A deck with Mikaeus tempts us to include Triskelion for an infinite combo win. This deck did not devote the design space for it. Instead, we included Plague Belcher and Puppeteer Clique each will infinitely return to the battlefield so that you can abuse them over and over.
Commander decks are not just staples, but they contain some unique cards that accomplish what the deck wants to do in a lesser know fashion. There are cards that individual players enjoy that the mass commander population does not either know about or evaluates differently. These are called pet cards. Because there needs to be a critical mass of creatures Ayara is a deck that can see many different pet cards in a build. This is what makes such a deck fun to design. Here are some pet cards in this build of the deck.
There are so many better ways to remove creatures. Snuff out is a normal pet card in black for removal. As mentioned above Dictate of Erebos synergizes very well with the deck. In this case, I chose to include Royal Assassin over either of those cards. It will not always net you creature removal because the deck does not have room for haste and you need to tap it to remove a creature. It will, however, affect how your opponents play at the table. People will be hesitant to attack when it’s on the board. It also becomes bait for any removal cards your opponents have. This is good because there are several meaner cards in the deck and if they chose to remove The Assassin all the better.
This is a mischevious card. Players do not like this card because it causes them… a painful quandary. This card almost guarantees it. Someone will remove Painful Quandary and when they cast a spell to do so they will be forced to lose a card or life. This gives the card a minimum threshold of value. Every spell cast after the first increases the value of the card and there is a certain glee to watch your opponents discard cards. I am not sure if it is my meta but when I have played this card opponents seem to discard cards first as opposed to losing five life. With Ayara and the threat of direct damage I expect it to remain the same in this deck. It is not a direct damage card but it is a great utility card to fit in the deck.
I like winning in commander. But as I play more I have grown to appreciate the art on cards as well as cards that flavorfully fit into a deck. For death and enters the battlefield deck, Endless Cockroaches fits so well. In the real world once you get cockroaches they are difficult to get rid of and the same is true with this card. Once they die they just keep coming back to your hand to cast again. Outside of a flavor win this card helps build an advantage with your death triggers and is also a piece to creating infinite mana. This makes Endless Cockroaches a very effective pet card in this deck.
This is a pet card and it provides some value as it can recur infinitely with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. Mikaeus grants it undying allowing it to recur from the graveyard with a +1/+1 counter on it. Then when Plague Belcher enters the battlefield you use his ability to place two -1./-1 counters on himself. This negates the +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter is removed from the card. This allows you to kill it again and it will come back as it did the previous time. It really is a thing of beauty.
The deck is expensive and Arkidect estimates it’s cost a little under $750. Part of the cost can be reduced if you use a placeholder strategy. If you own a card you can keep it in a binder or a box and put a placeholder in the deck instead. Then when you play the placeholder you can pull out the real card and put it in place. This allows you to use an expensive card in multiple decks. It makes the investment in expensive cards a little more palatable.
This build is close to the optimal build and it includes several cards that are expensive that are useful but unnecessary to make the deck run. These cards increase the chances for the deck to win which is why they were included in the original build. If you want to save money you can remove the following cards for approximately $375 in savings. Commander Clinic has posted budget adjustments for the deck for those that want to save a little cash. Here is a small sampling of the cards we have replaced in that article.
Overall Ayara is a very strong deck that comes in an eight and pushing towards a nine in power. The deck opts to forego an alternate win condition in order to play Aetherworks Marvel. It’s vulnerable to graveyard removal but it can win without the graveyard shenanigans. Graveyard recursion just makes it more efficient. Commander Clinic prefers to categorize cards according to function and not card type. This way someone can look at the decklist and understand how each card is to be played. You can find the full decklist of this deck on Arkidect here.
How would you build Ayara? Would you include Triskelion? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org any questions you may have. I will get back to you as quickly as possible.